Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Sorry for lack of blog posts - am in middle of promotion round, and this week has so far been spent either scoring cases, interviewing candidates, or in assessment panels. Very interesting role, and one I've done for many years, and a way to find out so much about what people do in the University.

Other people in the department have of course been busy, and I'm pleased to announce that our latest newsletter for staff is out with articles about Research Support, Telephony Developments, the Helpdesk, Governance and how we might approach the future funding reduction.

It's liked to from our staff news page, or you can download a pdf copy direct from here

Congrats to all concerned in its production including our own print service for the design.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Equality, Diversity and Executive Improvement

Equality and Diversity Board yesterday - a very interesting committee consisting of a cross section of University staff and students as well as lay members, which seeks to ensure that the University is not only meeting its legal obligations with respect to equality and diversity, but is actively promoting it and embedding it in everything we do.  We receive reports from different areas of the University, and discuss with the relevant heads how equality and diversity is promoted in their departments, look at examples of good practice and make suggestions for further action. I'm impressed with the amount of activity in this area - lots of good things going on, and I learn something new at nearly every meeting.  Yesterday was the turn of the Careers Service who produced an excellent report and are very active in all areas.  Many of their resources are available here, and we had a lively discussion about many employability issues.

We also had a presentation on the Equality Act 2010, which aims to harmonise, simplify, clarify and strengthen existing discrimination law. There are a number of changes coming into effect which will affect some of our policies and procedures, including the health questionnaire for job applicants which will now be completed post job offer. 

Then today it was the Human Resources Management Committee  - another enjoyable and useful session, although I did get another presentation on the Equality Act, but that's my fault for being on both committees!

The rest of yesterday and today was taken up with two half day sessions with the Executive Team looking at our priorities for improvement within the team and how we interact with the department. We looked at:
  • Planning
  • Prioritisation
  • Communication - both within and outside the department
  • Decision Making
  • Managerial Coherence
  • Improving Processes
  • Managing Complexity
  • Financial Planning

A very long action plan came out of it, which we are going to spend the next couple of months working on ready for a review of far we have got in January.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Funding cuts and our Vice-Chancellor speaks

Yesterday I was at a RUGIT meeting - the IT Directors of the Russell Group of Universities. One of the major topics of conversation was of course the Browne report on University financing and student fees in particular, and the forthcoming spending review. We talked about many things - what the effect of rising student fees might have on their expectations and what services they might expect to see - at a time when our budgets could be falling. We talked about the effect of falling budgets might have on us as IT Directors, what services we might be able to provide, and what we might have to stop. We also discussed how we might source services differently in order to put our resources onto supporting key Unsiverity objectives. I made the point that some are nervous at sourcing services from outside of the institution, as the control and the ability to deliver excellent is lost. I made the point that in my opinion not every service has to be excellent - sometimes good enough will have to be just that. Take email for example. I'm not saying that Google don't provide an excellent service because they do, but if their calendar for example doesn't quite have the same functionality as our existing one, does it really matter? Isn't it better to make decisions about what services the University needs to deliver its mission and focus on them?

So, we wait with trepidation this morning until we find out what the Chancellor has done to Higher Education. The only good thing seems to be that science funding might have been protected, but we shall see. Science is of course vital to us all, and to our economic recovery, but it is not the only subject that Universities excel in. On the train on the way home yesterday I read a post by my own Vice-Chancellor, a moving and passionate article supporting all University subjects and education, not just the "priority"ones. Well worth a read, and I wholeheartedly support his sentiments.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Warm jello, George Clooney and the end...

So, the conference is over now and I'm at home. Still slightly jet lagged after a 10 hour flight, although it was brightened up by a view of the flight deck, and a lovely conversation with the captain who patiently explained to me that just because the flight was bumpy, it didn't mean I was going to die!

Some sessions I haven't blogged in detail about include one about shared services in Europe, with many of the services from JISC being held up as examples of good practice, which of course they are.

And a talk by a CIO who used the recent disasters of the volcanic ash cloud and the oil spill to illustrate different aspects of leadership.  In both, leadership, integrity and clear communication were highly important.

Finally, a President of a large University who gave us her advice on what makes a good CIO in 4 main themes: strategic focus, managing change, teamwork, communication. I was so enthralled by her talk that I didn't take any notes, but you can watch it here.  Her description of managing IT as being like holding warm jelly and having it drip down your arms into your armpits was inspired.

As usual, it was a great conference with some excellent speakers, and a good crowd to network with. Over the years I've made many connections with colleagues from all of the world during these conferences.  This year was slightly different in that it was the first one I've not taken a laptop to, I managed for the week with just an iPad. The biggest advantage was not worrying abut battery life - normally by lunchtime I'd be sitting at the edge or at the back of the room looking for power sockets, or going back to my room to plug it in. It lasted everyday from the beginning of the 8am session to the end of the 6pm one, usually with about 40% battery left.  Somethings were a little harder, such as manipulating photos in my blog, but nothing was impossible.

 Was trying to think of a photo to finish with, and this one amused me - possibly the closest I'll ever get to him....

Plumber or Strategist?

One of the best point/counterpoint sessions was entitled CIO, Plumber or Strategist? It featurd two CIOs arguing from opposite sides of this spectrum.

Was it important to be a great strategist, to have credibility in your organisation by being a leader, delivering on the mission of the organisation, taking part in debates and shaping the future path. being part of the conversation with the executive management team.


Should you establish credibility by having everything work, becoming invisible. Finding out where the leaks were and filling them, ie plumbing. Strategy is OK, but without execution it's useless. Invoking the Shepard's prayer whenever necessary, named after Alan Shepard the astronaut who is alleged to have been caught on mike at the launch of Freedom 7 muttering "please Lord, don't let me f*** up".


If you have no strategy, can waste money and resources in a dynamic changing landscape. Have to know where you're going to make investments or you'll always be a day late and a dollar short. Operational effectiveness is not a strategy.


Operational effectiveness is what drives our ability to be excellent.

So, an interesting debate, and of course it was agreed at the end that both abilities are needed to be successful. You need to have have a strategy, influence, understand and deliver the core mission of the institution, and know where the leaks are and plug them.

Scream bodies and FabLabs

One of the plenary sessions was delivered by Neil Gershenfeld, head of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, what a great name for a department! I was a bit worried at the start, because he was talking about a new model for computer architecture, RALA, Reconfigurable Asynchronous Logic Automata. I suggest if you want to know more you read about it, because it was certainly beyond my understanding of physics and maths.

However, he quickly moved on to a class he began teaching at MIT called How to Make Almost Anything, which looks at how tools can be used for personal fabrication of things by people who have little experience. Some of the things the students make are clever, some funny, complex, simple. This is  great example by Kelly Dobson who made a scream body, with very little engineering, electrical or coding experience:

This course and the development of machines for easy fabrication, led to the development of FabLabs, fully kitted out workshops which aim to give communities the chance to manufacture almost anything and turn ideas into reality. Each one has about $50,000 of kit in them, and there were some great examples of what had been done in them around the world, including an 8year old girl in Ghana making a circuit board, and some people in Afghanistan building a wireless network out of junk (imaginatively called Fabfi).

His thesis is that we started with machines in labs, which has moved on to machines made in labs, developing into digital assembly, which we have in the FabLabs, but we are now seeing the beginning of self assembly, where machines will make themselves.

There's a FabLab in Manchester, (why not Sheffield), and Neil reckons we'll have a Star trek replicator within 20 years. Now there's a target!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Implementing LEAN

Interesting presentation from a University that had implemented LEAN.
I've posted about LEAN before, and some of you will know that I'm interested in using it in Sheffield to improve some of our processes.
LEAN is a form of process reengineering, and 80% of lean projects involve implementation of some technology. It also intersects with project management technologies.

LEAN focuses on processes, not people, and one of its goals is to eliminate outdated or inefficient practices. It leverages collective knowledge by getting all those involved in a process together to talk abut it.

Common roadblocks to lean are:
People afraid, of losing jobs, or of change
Lack of follow through.
Sabotage (it does happen!)
Sacred cows, or things we just can't change
Predetermined solutions, especially by senior management
Too many other pressures

The goal is to eliminate waste and this can come inn many forms, for example multiple forms asking for the same information, forms sitting in inboxes for a long-time, actual work time being minimal, customers waiting a long time, inaccurate information

Many detps want quick fix, ask IT to write or implement a system but don't review the processes. IT can be used to prioritise, this particular University will not start a project unless its been through the LEAN process. only do projects that have been through LEAN.

A key tool is value stream mapping, basically a diagram of the process with metrics, timelines etc. You can also use other tools to get information such as asking "why?" 5 times in different ways.

In this University they trained a number of facilitators then paired them up to work on 10 projects. First task was to identify goals. Different goals would have different ways of approaching the project eg reducing cost might be different to improving accuracy.

Value stream map of current process and desired should take two days only. Metrics need to be included timeline underneath and identify where a process is so complex that it needs its own map.

Identify sacred cows, and parking lot items - things that might touch the project but not driving main project, need to be parked and not used as distraction.

Then make a list of actions to get to desired state and allocate tasks. Then becomes like a project.

People have to be neutral. If people are heavily involved in process, have to be balanced by people who aren't.
Time, can be done in 2 days.

As you're doing LEAN document the process your working on. Chances are no one has done it before.

A LEAN initiative is a good way to embed things in the process like equality and diversity, data protection, carbon reduction.

Tailoring services to meet the needs of the current iGeneration of students

Examples of the current pace of change and why we need to be aware of changing expectations of our current students.
Time taken to reach 50 million users:
Radio, 35 years
Telephone 23 yrs
TV 20 yrs
www. 10 yrs
iPod 4 yrs
YouTube 1yr

MISO survey. Perceptions of students, faculty and staff of views of library and computing services. Been carried out since 2005 across different institutions.

Summary of results:

Most frequently used services:
Course management system
Wireless access

Most important:
Network speed
Network stability
Virus protection
Public computers
Course management system

Highest satisfaction:
Library borrowing
Library circulation
Library reference

(highest satisfaction was dominated by library services)

Only 4 items poor satisfaction:
Wireless availability
Network speed
Network reliability
Wireless reliability

What's becoming more important:
Wireless access
Digital image collections
Course management system
Quiet workspace in the library
Borrowing laptops

Becoming less important:
Library web site (because can get to resources without going through it?)
Helpdesk ( fewer problems or solving them themselves?)
Campus computing labs (because own more laptops?)
Residence phone service ( because all have mobiles)

increasing satisfaction:
Input into decisions
Status information about problems
Wireless availability

Decreasing satisfaction:
Network performance
Campus computing labs

Cross over.
Helpdesk going down in importance but computing website going up. About to cross. All about self service and students preferring to search for solutions rather than come to hands on, busy helpdesk. Want to be empowered rather than helped.

Campus computing labs going down in importance, computing in the library remaining high. Increasing gap. Value of library as key place for students. Much rather do computing in library than in commuter labs.

In summary, what students seem to be saying is Give me the tools, and let me get on with it.
But, infrastructure must be up to it. Always on. Fast.
Give them space, especially in libraries
Give them tools and services that they need in a easy to use way

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Scary escalators, flowers and a huge conference

As usual, everything about this conference is huge. The conference centre is huge, with some very scary escalators which span several floors. The exhibition is huge. I've probably spent 3 hours in it in total over the last couple of days and am not sure that I've even seen every stand, never mind visited and spoken to them. I have had a chat with some of our existing suppliers, and some with products that we might be interested in.

The conference itself is huge, there are 6,700 attendees, 2,500 participating on-line and about 1000 exhibitors. Makes the logistics of getting everyone in and out of sessions and fed and watered in the breaks interesting but it works incredibly well.

Some sessions aren't what you expect. Yesterday I was in one called Is the Internet making us stupid, which was another point/counterpoint session with a very evangelistic, technology enthusiastic professor facing a very conservative CIO, (which stands for Condemn Innovation Oppressively according to the professor). At one point the professor jumped off the stage and handed us all flowers while expressing his love for all of us. Very odd.

This morning EDUCAUSE presented Ira Fuchs with a Leadership Award for his work in supporting the development of open source software including Sakai, uPortal and Kuali through grants from the Mellon Foundation. It was a very popular choice.

Keeping customers in the loop in an IT meltdown

IT critical incident communication by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

April 2009 had just drafted their communications processes, when it had a good test as they lost their email and calendaring for 4 days.

IT alert systems project had asked customers in an IT incident, what do you need to know? When do you need to know and how do you want to be told. Discovered that campus wanted to know about an incident within 10 mins of it happening. And they wanted to know via university home page. Problematic because home page primarily marketing. So compromise, put small icon in bottom right of home page which links to IT status page. Small red triangle with exclamation mark.

First step was to define roles and responsibilities. Not staff, but roles. Developed a repeatable process that can be applied to every incident. Drafted documentation for all staff to see. Then trained techncial staff who can post to status page in when to do it, what to include, how to write. Then had sessions for all staff in IT department to help them understand internal processes in an incident. Had to be all staff because they represent the department, eg when they walk across campus people will ask them what's going on.

Helpdesk are key players. Collect information from customers. First point of contact. Assess information and determine if they have to escalate. Also are key points of contact during an incident.

Incident coordinator only exists is there's an incident. First point of escalation and can post to status web page. Can also contact supervisor on call and call in technical staff.

Incident communications coordinator. Deals with incident comms internally and is only person allowed to talk to technical staff. Also let's senior management know about incident and deals with comms to IT support people in depts.

IT strategic communications manager is brought in if incident is serious enough. Deals with comms to customers, eg FAQs, scripts for helpdesk, web pages, broadcast emails.

Lessons learned:

Process is critical for cordinated and consistent comms. That way everyone knows what their role is and steps aren't forgotten.

Be open to feedback

All staff have to understand their roles and understand the process ahead of time.

Have dedicated staff for strategic comms. Fees up operational people.

Managing campus expectations contributes to success. Be consistent. Then they know what to expect. Always be truthful. If it's a serious problem tell them, and if don't know fix time tell them. All you have is your integrity.

Update update update. No news is news. Update status web page regularly or they will think you've forgotten.

Upstreaming communications is vital. Tell the senior management as soon as possible. Tell external comms people in case media get hold of it.

Don't over communicate. Tailor the message to the audience. Local IT professionals need more technical info for example than campus in general. Senior management will want info on scope and impact.

Post event evaluation is critical for continued improvement.

After April 2009 4 day outage post evaluation showed that customers were not happy about the outage but were happy with comms. Used 10 different comms media including web page, twitter, voicemail on helpdesk phone and 67 different messages.

Use common sense to determine level of incident including assessing impact and numbers affected. Don't rely on strict definitions.

Mobile technology issues

Next session was a point/counterpoint session where two people give different views of a topic. This was on mobile technology and took the form of some scripted vignettes.

The first was a Professor asking for the internet to be turned off in lecture rooms because students were using it on their laptops and other mobile devices in his lectures. He is the expert, and students should give him their full attention. It amused me that he wanted a switch installed so he had a button adjacent to his screen that he could push to turn off the Internet. In the questions afterwards some universities had actually had this request from academic staff.

The counterpoint was that firstly they are only virtually doodling, looking at rss feeds is like reading the paper - just like he did as a student. Secondly, he should be changing his teaching methods to engage and challenge them. Let them use technology to research the topic before and during the class. This (hypothetical) Professor was obsessed with getting through the material they need to have for assessment.

Very entertaining debate, and I like the idea of a lead lined classroom with no Internet. Some places have students asking if it can be turned off because disturbing others. But students have always passed round notes, talked to each other etc.

Second vignette was a new president coming in with his iPhone and being told by the CIO that he had to use the standard issue Blackberry. Of course, he lives by it, can't live without it. CIO handles the situation by saying he's never used an iPhone, is sure all smart phones do same thing, and is sure he'll soon get used to the Blackberry. Or he could buy a personal iPhone and just carry two phones around. Needless to say, the President isn't at all happy....

Of course, this is the wrong way to handle this situation, standardisation used to be good. But now it's just inflicting pain on the president.

So, the vignette was re-enacted with the right way to do things. This is where things didn't go the way I thought they would. I expected the CIO to be all about supporting the users choice of device. Helping them, not saying no. But I was wrong. Apparently the right way was still to say no, but explain why. Tell the President what the risks of the iPhone would be, and help him cope with two devices. Bizarre!

This was all tied up with the law in some states which means that all official emails and texts have to be retained and released if asked eg by the press. Bit like our FoI but much worse. So, if you have personal texts or emails on a work phone they would have to be released. Really didn't understand all of this but it sounded to be madness. Not like our policy of recommending that people delete as many emails as possible!

Central vs distributed IT support

Next session was on centralised vs decentralised IT support from the University of Mitchigan. 58000 students. 3 campuses. 19 schools and colleges.

Very decentralized organisation. It's not an accident, it's a strategy. Decisions distributed out to deans etc. Budget distributed out to schools and colleges. Deans set strategy for their units. They have their own admissions staff, comms staff etc. IT also distributed. Each has own IT group reporting to academic leadership. Even professional services have own IT groups.
Some groups run very general stuff including networks, wireless, backups, email, calendar. They've gone so far down this route that they've lost many opportunities to get benefits from centralization. Eg wireless across campus run by different units and isn't interoperable. Same wheels being invented over and over again.

So, they've recognised that they need to change. Big funding challenge means they have to drive down costs. Set up an IT rationalisation project. Sponsored by provost and CFO and Accenture brought in to advise. The goals are to reduce IT operating costs without reducing quality, to have smarter sourcing policies, reduce redundancy, and have a sensible transparent cost model.

First stage was to assess the state of IT at UM. Looked like a nightmare to me! Loads of examples of different groups doing the same thing in different ways, lots of duplication.

Second stage was to define the different layers of services:
Public good. IT services can be used for all units, everyone pays whether they use it or not.
Toll services, most users can use
Community services, used by segment of common users
Unique, IT services used by one unit

At moment too much is unique. Working on defining public good. Interesting that they don't appear to be saying that you have to use them, but you have to pay for them. Eg engineering will probably carry on running their own network.

Too much of school IT staff time is spent running back end services, could be done better by someone else. Not providing value added. So, looking to move more to central. But service has to be as good as being provided.

Some schools and colleges engaging with process more than others. Most keen to keep a local face. Eg first and second line tech support. Keep strong ownership at faculty level.

In schools that have engaged, they have taken on more emerging needs, and help more, and have increased customer focus because central IT taking on back end stuff. Have also reduced staff in IT. Have decommissioned server room which has been given over to research.

But cannot continue with incremental pace of change. Budget demands and competitive demands too great. Now have to seriously rationalise

Some issues:
Without the right funding model progress will be limited. If school has to pay central IT for full cost of services, no incentive to change.

Local IT is great at personal communciation and engagement. Don't want to lose this good thing. Can drive costs down, but if personal engagement is lost, will be a bad thing.

Central IT has to get really good at sourcing. Don't try to run everything themselves. If everything moves to centre won't succeed, need to get rid of stuff eg commodity stuff. Pick the right things to run.

IT offerings have to meet reasonable quality expectations, true for central and unit offerings. Reasonable is the important word. Schools have given central IT their requirements, central IT design services, but then it's too expensive. When look close, the school often doesn't meet these standards. Like gardening, if pay someone, has to be perfect. If do it yourself, don't care as much.

IT has to be responsive and agile. Central IT very project focussed. Finish project then move on to next big thing. Need to get things out quickly and incrementally improve them.

Central IT needs to reach out to edge of organisation and talk to these rogues out there doing their own things. Same true for edge. They have to understand central IT. It will take both sides to make the relationship work.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Opening session at EDUCAUSE is a general session open to all delegates. You really get a feel for how big the conference is in these plenaries. And at this one we had the pleasure of "recognising" our own Peter Tinson as a member of the programme committee.

The session was delivered by Gary Hamel and was called Reinventing management in a networked world. It was about change, and how to get organisations to change. How to outrun change. How to build an organisation which is as nimble as change itself. Most change encounters organisational inertia. 2nd law of thermodynamics (entropy) applies to organisations as well which tend to lose energy after a while.

Most important question we should ask is are we changing as fast as the world around us.

Cultural change is fast.Technology faster.
Knowledge even faster. 8% of what we know we learnt in last 5 years.
Exponential change is all around us. Some examples - World population, energy consumption, Internet addresses, gene sequencing.

The Web is a good example of disruptive change. This is what it does:

Dematerialises. Undermines the physical infrastructure. Eg IBooks, downloads of films replacing blockbuster. Zopa. Bank with no bankers. Will on line learning replace traditional? Need to cut the business loose from physical assets
Disintegrates. It splinters organisations, markets and products. So easy to combine, recombine, mashup. Not tied to distribution economics. Bundled model of TV will get pulled apart by things like apple TV. Will specialist providers of education emerge?
Disintermediates. It dislocated activities or renders them obsolete. Eg on line insurance, estate agents.
Democratises. It gives everyone the chance to create value. Makes it easy to discover like minds and collaborate .eg linux development, crowd sourcing.

Anything that can be delivered digitally, will be. If you don't do it, someone else will. If you don't harness the power of open innovation and peer production, someone else will.

Longevity is no guarantee of future survival. Look at newspapers. Universities hardly changed in a millennium.

In many areas there have been enormous changes, and expectations have changed. For example:
How you read a book
How you buy music
How you buy software

Will how we get an education be next?

If this revolution is going to happen, who's going to lead it? Revolution is often led by insurgents not incumbents. Gues which is which:

Barnes and Noble/Kindle

In a world of discontinuous change, people who live by the sword will be shot by those who don't.

Too often in organisations change is at the margins. Infrequent and convulsive. Takes a crisis to change.

Some challenges that have to be overcome:

Cognitive challenge. Get beyond denial. Don't live in the past. Organisations don't miss the future because it's unpredictable, but because its unpalatable. AT&T couldn't believe that data traffic would ever overtake voice traffic. Cycle of denial same in boardrooms as in bedrooms. Look at music industry and mp3.
Treat every belief as a hypothesis. Every business is successful until it's not. And the not can happen quickly.
Seek out the dissidents and critics and listen to them.
Spend time out on the bleeding edge. Look outside at where change is already happening. Look at other industries. Talk to young people.
Try to imagine the unimaginable

Strategic challenge. Think of evolution. If life ran on principles of some organisations we'd still be slime. Need to evolve. Experiment. Google gets it. Constant experimentation. Lots of small ideas to test. Crowdsource your strategy. Dont keep it to a few individuals at the top.
You need 100 ideas to get 100 experiments to get 10 projects to get 1 winner.

Political challenge. Realign talent and capital. There's a bank in Bangladesh making small loans mainly to women with hardly any paperwork. Easier for a woman in Bangladesh to get resources to innovate than in most of our organisations. Give employees virtual money to invest in ideas.

Existential challenge. Enlarge our sense of mission. The one laptop per child project when started everyone said it can't be done. Need to start with an aspiration. Apple have reinvented 4 industries: Computer, mobile phone, music, retail. Apple stores are apparently the most profitable stores in the world. Comes from an underlying passion to make a difference.

We need to take a personal risk and start to change our organisations.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


In Anaheim at the moment for the EDUCAUSE conference. Just about got over the jet lag, but still waking up too early. Everything round here is Disney, and not just Disney at the moment, but Halloween, and Disney! Spent one day over the weekend in the park doing the rides, but now the conference has started. I'll try and post about as many sessions as possible, but they'll probably be in note form.

This morning I went to a partnership forum, an invitation only event looking at issues facing EDUCAUSE. There was a mixture of attendees, including EDUCAUSE members, sister organisations(including us, UCISA) and corporations.

Began with an overview of EDUCAUSE achievements for this year. One of their main activities is producing content, and their publication, the EDUCAUSE Review has won 8 national and international awards. Of their services, the Core Data Service which is an annual survey of campus IT, is very useful. Results go into a database and you can use it to do comparisons. This has bee redesigned so you can download data into spreadsheets and it's easier now to compare data internationally.

As well as content and services, EDUCAUSE do a lot of conferences. They're moving towards online and blended formats so that time zone differences and location are not so much of an issue. Of course this is not something we have to worry about so much, still think it must be strange having different time zones in the same country. This conference is hybrid, with an on-line track with talks streamed, and participation through chat, Twitter, discussion forums. On line attendees have to be able to participate, so it's important that the on-line track is interactive.

Then we had a discussion about corporate engagement and the importance of the relationship with corporate partners and vendors. EDUCAUSE is apparently considered to be conservative in its relationships with other organisations, and are looking to improve. Interesting that many of the issues they are facing, and the measures they're taking are very similar to what's going on in the UK with UCISA. For example, the conference schedule has been adjusted so each day has 2 hours where no meetings or sessions overlap with the exhibition. Meeting suites for vendors have been provided in hall. Prize stations are a new idea (looking forward to them...), and they are introducing more sponsorship opportunities eg for online sessions, podcasts etc.
Then we had a round table discussion, and on our table we had two UK reps, 1 from Australia, 2 vendors and 3 US EDUCAUSE members. A good selection, and a lot of interest in some of the initiatives we've been taking such as the Selling IT to HE course we run.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 8 October 2010

Under the sea...

Spent most of Wednesday entertaining visitors from JANET, our network provider. A good opportunity to learn from each other. Them to find out  about our needs and how we work, and us to find out about how they deal with the increasing demands on them. On of the things we touched on was the absolute critical nature of our internet connection now - it isn't just to give us a connection to the outside world, but used to run critical services over. As we outsource more services, this dependence will only increase. We also looked at whether our current connection of 2 x 1Gig links is enough. Of course, 2 x 1Gig links doesn't make a 2Gig link.  You have to understand etherchannels to get that one. We think we need at least 1 x 10Gig link, especially to cope with the amount of research data we predict will need to be transported in the future. We also touched on the issues surrounding security and misuse of the network, especially the downloading of copyright material - on the increase at the moment as the new students discover the amount of bandwidth they've suddenly got, but soon clamped down on by our security team.

A good day, and a very useful set of discussions. I'm fascinated by simple things especially the  logisitics of something I haven't really thought about before. Like network links, and the fact that there really are big fat bundles of cables under the Atlantic Ocean which can get pulled up and broken by anchors, or nibbled at by fish.  Wonder how they fix them when they're at such a huge depth.

Yesterday we had a meeting about how we're going to drastically change the process of getting data into our student system on the structure of programmes   - what I remember as the "regulations". The very complex set of rules which governs what students have to do to get their chosen degree. This information drives so many other systems now including registration, the timetables and the VLE, and it is vital that it is entered in a timely way and that it is accurate. We're going to have to make things much simpler and shorten many timescales.

Today I've been preparing for my annual trip to EDUCAUSE which starts next week - the big HE IT conference. Really looking forward to it.  Will blog about as many sessions as I can,  but they may be in note form. This will be the first week long conference I've been to without a laptop, just the trusty iPad. Hope it works OK.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

User Group and a rogue unix command

It was our User Group this morning - always well attended and a chance to bring our customers up to date with developments and get some feedback. Began with a projects update:
  • MOLE2 (our new VLE ) is going well and live in 2 pilot departments, being rolled out to rest of University over next year or so.
  • Google - we've made the decision now in principle to implement Google apps for staff, moving mail at Christmas and calendar and other apps soon after
  • Upgrade to our student system - technical upgrade completed and gone well, look and feel upgrade now in progress.
  • New portal (to be based on Liferay) progressing well

Other things we talked about were recent incidents and performance problems, and the complexity of systems, processes, configuration and data which underlies everything we do. Trying to get a handle of not just the systems, but the business processes, to simplify them is our next big thing.

I then gave a version of my "Challenges Facing an IT Director" presentation, which I've blogged about before, leading into an explanation of our new governance process, based on service management. Illustrated beautifully by this simple diagram:

Finally we had a very good presentation on our upgraded  Content Management System which is about to go live. This is something we've been justifiably criticised for over the past couple of years as the version of the system we've been running is not brilliant, but the upgraded one is much better!

Then a discussion with our internal auditors about our next audit - on Freedom of Information - more on that as it happens!

At the end of this afternoon, a couple of things that make me love working in CiCS. Someone (who shall remain nameless unless outed in the comments), made a little mistake with a unix command and deleted something he shouldn't have. The command was " rm -R * " which might mean something to unix people :-).  Anyway, he was promptly visited by our Unix group leader who beat him over the head repeatedly with a plastic hammer and then pinned a P45 to his desk. Perhaps not a mistake he'll make again!

And the second thing was someone introducing me to Flipboard for the iPad. It's brilliant! So elegant, and such a different way to  look at social media.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Communication, communication..

It's nice to see all of the students back on campus - as usual we give all of  our new students a booklet and a disc containing useful information, antivirus software etc. This year we've produced a booklet for new staff giving a summary of the services we provide, and where they can get further information from.  A nice addition I think to our portfolio of leaflets I think. This one will be given as hard copy to new staff, but all staff will be able to access it as a pdf from our web pages.

 Lots of discussion over the past few days about communication - the University has a new Internal Communications Officer and I had a very interesting meeting with her discussing how we can work together to improve comms to staff and students. Better web pages, more targeted announcements and messages, and more personalisation through our portal all things we looked at. Then today we've been looking at how we can best pull together all of our different strategies and other documents into one coherent story to help our customers, and indeed our own staff, better understand what we do.

And finally, approved 4 email newsletters to go out in the next couple of days - for staff, new students, returning students and research students.